Sailing Catapult

Trapezing technique and gear

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    A  basic rule is that trapezing Catapult is easier than struggling upwind easing the main and hiking.

   Trapezing adds about one third to one half again to the power (not doubling it, as with a dinghy) The margin gives a clear boost of power which can still be handled easily once out on the wire.

  Beginning trapezing
the trickier parts are getting out and back but practice makes these routine. Initially, it is easy to put off practicing, or to put off trapezing in a race---the conditions are already a bit daunting with a lot going on, and it is tempting to push on, flattening the sail and pushing up to windward. This can be effective (and see final comments further below) but usually the trapezing boats will have a steady advantage and will surge forward during puffs.

  (Gareth, the master of Catapult trapezing (below) will be seen before the start doing a few bursts on the wire, something most helms put off until the race itself.)

Getting out on the wire. The trapeze is hooked on and the the helmsman's weight dropped back over the edge of the beam by 2-3 inches, before the wire takes up the helm's weight.

The lower the ring is set, the easier it is to swing out, so the wire is slack when sitting on the beam.)

  Hanging on the handle, the front foot pushes off from the top of the centreboard, using it as a ladder to then get both feet on the beam, about 2 feet apart.

  A helmsman weighing 11 stones will trapeze by around 17 knots of wind, and 13 stones by 20 knots (and average weight helms will trapeze only when beating upwind.)

  During lulls, bending the legs brings weight inwards. (This is only about a 15% reduction in power,
so usually a frequent need to bend the legs to balance during lulls is a sign to come in )

 Coming in, the handle is grasped to lift the weight over the beam, and the harness unclipped as soon as on the beam.

  Different helms have slightly different techniques, so the aim is to have a settled confident personal routine.

fast sailing:Catapult catamaran under trapeze

Paul Ellis (above) demonstrates the advantages of trapezing: not only the added power, but also a stable platform, with a good view ahead, and an easy check  on the sail indicators.

catapult catamarans trapezing

Above; A light-weight helm, Gareth Ede, hunts down a less light helm, his father Stuart.

 If the strength of wind stays at this level, and the beat is long enough, Stuart is doomed, as Gareth has more power with a lighter weight.

Both use a fixed long carbon-fibre tiller extension
One difference between helms is in cleating the mainsheet going out and coming in. Some never cleat (for overall safety) and hold the sheet tension all the time, some use a ratchet block, and some cleat for trapeze manoevres (to have one less thing to think about, but needing to uncleat once on deck)

Tacking from the trapeze: coming in as the tack begins .

This technique gives a big advantage, as the boat speed swings the bow through the tack quickly (in conditions where seas are likely to be already lumpy and difficult.) As well, the weight on the wire as the handle is pulled to come in lifts the bow, and drags the bows around. It is much easier than it sounds!

Paul jams the mainsheet, swings in while starting to push the tiller over, and once kneeling on the tramp chops out the trapeze hook, uncleats the main and completes the tack.

Not cleating the main means one less thing to do, and less risk (see below) but if the main is slackened too soon, the leech slackens and will not push the boat quickly up into the wind.

The basic technique is to begin and commit to the tack while on the wire, and get in and off the wire quickly as it comes head to wind. The kneeling position in the middle of the boat allows safe quick movement.

 Alex Montgomery comments that moving off the wire, sheeting in and crossing the deck means a lot of change for the boat, so that it is important to be smooth, and confident and quick.

 (VIDEO of Alex tacking from the wire here: and here see how fast the boat swings through the tack---with a quick move back onto the wire, Alex is flying on the opposite tack.)

Other helms prefer to come in off the wire and get the boat going again before selecting the time to tack. All may elect this if the sea is confused or particularly large.

As when tacking at any time,  tacking from the trapeze is done when ready and with reasonable boat speed (and if slowed by a breaking wave, waiting until the boat has accelerated again, or bearing away a bit to gain momentum.)

  A rushed tack often ends up in the rudders stalling - having to steer backwards, rudders reversed, to complete the tack.

 The risks of beginning the tack from the wire appear greater than they actually are---as at any time, if you can get to the middle of the deck, sheet released, the boat is stable while the crisis sorts itself out.

Trapezing in general, although looking more dramatic, carries little risk. Unlike a dinghy, a sudden drop in the wind will hardly ever produce a capsize to windward, as the leeward hull's weight balances the helm's weight (although it is briefly alarming, and the rig flops over towards the windward side.)

  Similarly, falling off is rare (see below) from being hit by a wave, or thrown forward by a sudden deceleration (e.g. hitting a wave; see Minnis Bay TT report)

  If this does happen, the boat seems to sit on the same heading (as the helmsman, initially hanging from the wire beside the boat,  becomes a sea anchor to windward) rather than come head to wind.

fast trapezing on a catapult catamaran

Above: Alex Montgomery creaming along on the wire at Bewl, legs bent to bring weight a little inboard.

fast trapezing a catapult catamaran
 Gear for trapezing Some stick-on grip along the outer edge of the hull beam (only along the 45 degree angle bit of the beam, not the top or side) gives confidence you won't slip.

  Alex uses an aluminium adjustable tiller extension, with a mark  to show where to adjust it to (not too long or short.) as this helps to give a consistent feel.
He shortens the tiller extension for running downwind and extends it just before rounding the leeward mark.

   Most boats are fitted with a an adjustable trapeze set-up (raising or lowering the ring by about 30 cm) but almost all helms leave the wire where it is while racing.

 (Alex adjusted them on the long Round Sheppey race, going for shorter wires in the larger seas and lengthening them when he got to the flatter sheltered areas in the Swale.)

Even with the wires set to drop the helm's weight over the edge before the wire tightens, the trapezing position when out on the wire is well above horizontal (see pictures)

It is said that the trapezing position should be flat to give most effect, but the differences must be a tiny percent only. (See photo and comment below.)

Alex comments that rigging or de-rigging, he attaches/detaches the trapeze wires separately, to minimise tangles. He puts the trapeze wires on only if it's windy, as sailing without the harness also feels good.

This article may read as an advertisement for trapezing Catapult (which it is!) but individual helms will still find what suits them best, and build on that.

 (Below: Alastair shows a superb low trapezing position upwind at Bass. The reason for this near-horizontal stance is that his plastic trapeze toggle (see below) has fractured and he has been abruptly dropped ten inches. This remains manageable but he is convinced  that the height should be set to make getting in and out easiest, not to get a tiny leverage advantage---the gain from being horizontal (vs. say at 20', higher than usual) is no more than 3% on Catapult)


Alex Montgomery argues that in strong winds there is a fine line between sailing the boat lightly off the trapeze (avoiding driving the leeward hull deep into the water and increasing drag) and putting on more power from the wire. and that he has been able to sail fast without the trapeze in strong winds.

 He says that being inboard and hiking gives you more control as it's easier to move your weight around in a bigger sea, responding to gusts and concentrating on sailing the boat. Sitting on the wire can mean some loss of feel for how well the boat's moving through the water.

  So, it's not clear cut, but trapezing, compared to hiking, is definitely easier on the stomach muscles and a good option to have at your disposal, if only to make the beats physically easier!

Below: an example of a trapeze set-up, on Alastair's boat.

 (The return shockcord runs through eyelets and small blocks all attached to the trampoline, not the boat frame, so there is no setting up apart from hooking on the shock-cord, as below, saving rigging time.)

catapult catamaran trapeze catapult catamarns trapezew

Alastair's trapeze rig (left) is set up for simplicity and reliability. (The height cannot be adjusted in action)

The return shockcord is led to the end of the cord supporting the ring, so that when hooked-on sitting on the deck, the cord is always kept under some tension, so the ring is pulled up into the hook, avoiding coming free.
catapult trapeze

Going out on the trapeze (above left) the cord comes up against a stopper, which sets the height.

A knot (above right) sets the stopper position. Running through the plastic thingummy, it is always easily released after being under the load of the helm's weight. (The plastic has been now replaced by an aluminium version, see photo and comment above.)